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    Five Questions With Jared Reck (A Short History of the Girl Next Door)

    By Samantha Stinchcomb
     | Jan 03, 2018

    Jared ReckJared Reck's debut novel, A Short History of the Girl Next Door, is a powerful story about friendship and popularity, high school romance, and overcoming tragedy. An eighth-grade English language arts teacher, Reck lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania with his wife and two daughters.

    Do any of the characters or events portrayed in this story mirror your personal experiences with love and life?

    Absolutely. I think all of us understand the feeling of unrequited love—from the earliest unreciprocated crushes of elementary and middle school to the all-encompassing, soul-crushing kind that comes a little later. Good times.

    Matt is very much based on me in terms of interests and personality as a teenager, and I still have an inner-romantic movie director running overdramatic clips of how moments in my life should be playing out. He still sucks, too. So while I never experienced the same loss that Matt does firsthand, I’m pretty sure his reactions—the heartfelt and the heinous alike—mirror what my own would have been.

    What inspired you to write A Short History of the Girl Next Door?

    I wish I could say that [A Short History of the Girl Next Door] came from some big idea, but it didn’t. It really just started with a character.

    I teach eighth-grade ELA, which I run as a writing workshop, and every year we do a pretty in-depth unit on fiction writing. We always start the process by developing a believable main character using a simple questionnaire—about 20 questions answered in the voice of that character, almost like you’re sitting down across the table from your character and recording whatever he or she says to you. (I still start all my stories this way, with about 20-30 pages of character responses before I ever try writing the first chapter.)

    About seven or eight years ago, I’d finished my first short story with my students—a 30-page story about a dweeby eighth-grade orchestra member sitting in in-school suspension—and I loved how it turned out. So when I sat down and started a new character with my students the next year, I ended up loving this kid even more: he was funny, and self-deprecating, and stuck inside his own head all the time, and he lived and breathed basketball. He was Matt.

    So before I ever knew where I was going with the story—before I knew I’d even attempt to turn it into a novel—I had this character, this voice, that I loved. (I’m still not sure I ever figured out plot.)

    In what ways did your students help you to write this novel?

    My students have always kind of been my first readers, little snippets at a time. In my classroom, I never ask my students to do anything I’m not willing to do, too, so I am always writing with them, whether it’s memoir or poetry or fiction or whatever. I model with my own writing throughout the entire process, and, honestly, I’m usually trying to make them laugh. So if I can read a passage and make a roomful of eighth graders laugh, I know I’m on the right track. They’re not always the easiest audience.

    What was the biggest obstacle you faced when writing this novel? Were there any moments in the story where you felt particularly ‘stuck’?

    Ordinary, everyday life.

    Besides teaching full-time, I also worked through a master’s program in educational leadership, I’m an elected member of the school board (in the district where I live, not where I teach), I’m on my town’s recreation board, and with two daughters (one a senior in high school this year), my wife and I are constantly volunteering for the music booster club and the theater booster club and going to concerts and practices and sporting events and Girl Scouts and…yeah. Life.

    Definitely not a struggle—I love being involved in all these things—just full. So, especially with this first book, it was hard to dedicate so much time away from family to work on something that may never go anywhere. And that was one of the biggest challenges—just having the commitment to keep going. To assuage all the crippling self-doubt with the thought that, even if this never gets published, I’ll still be a better human being for having done it—that I’d regret never finishing way more than never publishing.

    What advice would you share with aspiring young authors?

    It’s okay to fake it. Seriously. I just finished writing my second novel, and I still feel like I’m faking it—like I still shouldn’t really call myself a writer. But even if you feel that way—and I bet most of us feel that way—go ahead and pretend like you’re a real-live writer anyway: join an organization like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, take a class or a workshop, find a writing friend or two, do your research, keep reading and writing, and pretend that you’re already so successful that you can write about whatever the heck makes you truly happy. (I wrote about Nerds, corked wiffle ball bats, and almost inappropriately good gravy.)

     Samantha Stinchcomb is a former intern at the International Literacy Association.

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    Books Too Good to Miss

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Dec 20, 2017

    At the beginning of December, we took note of the many books remaining on our shelves that we wanted to see reviewed in this weekly column before the end of the year. So here, in the last column of the year, are sixteen of these books published in 2017 that we think are just too good to miss.

    Ages 4–8

    All the Way to Havana. Margarita Engle. Ill. Mike Curato. 2017. Godwin/Henry Holt.

    All the Way to HavanaA boy describes a trip in Cara Cara, the family’s dilapidated blue car (a 1954 Chevy), from his village to the bustling capital city of Havana, where they join a parade of colorful old cars. “Many of the cars roar, growl, whine, or putt putt, but most just honk, honk, honk as they glide bumpety bump on potholed city streets.” Author’s and illustrator’s notes provide a context for this story set in Cuba, a country where a family’s loyalty extends to its car.
    —CA

    My Dog Mouse. Eva Lindström. Trans. Julia Marshall. 2017. Gecko.

    My Dog MouseA young girl takes Mouse, an old dog, on a slow and rambling walk to a park. “Step, pause. Step, pause.” Readers will bask in the comfortable friendship of girl and dog expressed by the softly colored illustrations and the leisurely pace of the narrative. Back where they began, the girl watches as Mouse follows his owner inside his home and wistfully says, “I wish Mouse was mine.”
    —NB

    Once There Was a Story: Tales from Around the World, Perfect for Sharing. Jane Yolen. Ill. Jane Dyer. 2017. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.

    Once There Was a StoryThis collection of 32 tales from around the world, organized in three sections: “Homey Tales,” “The Very Best Beastly Tales,” and “Tales of Magic,” includes both well-known stories such as “The Little Red Hen” (England) and “The Tortoise and the Hare” (Greece/Aesop) and lesser-known ones such as “Plip, Plop” (Tibet) and “Ali’s Wretched Sack” (Iran/a Sufi story). Yolen’s retellings of folktales, fables, and stories, complemented by Dyer’s charming watercolor illustrations, are perfect for reading aloud to young children.
    —CA

    Plume. Isabelle Simler. 2017. Eerdmans.

    PlumeAn elegant, digitally created portrait of a bird (peacock, blackbird, nuthatch, turkey, and fourteen more) is paired with delicately detailed drawings of one or more of its feathers on each oversize double-page spread. The presence of Plume (the black cat looking at feathers on the cover) is evident throughout the book with a nose, paw, ear, or whiskers along the edge of a page or its body partially hidden behind a bird. Plume’s special interest in feathers is revealed on the final pages.
    —CA

    Small Walt. Elizabeth Verdick. Ill. Marc Rosenthal. 2017. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster.

    Small WaltWalt, the smallest snowplow, clears the streets with driver Gus during a blizzard although the BIG snowplows doubt his ability to complete the challenging task. Digitally colored drawings featuring a bright red personified Walt and a lively narrative punctuated with chants (“My name is Walt. / I plow and I salt . . .”) and onomatopoeia (“ERRR Vroom-vaRoom!”) make this book a delightful read aloud.
    —NB

    Winter Dance. Marion Dane Bauer. Ill. Richard Jones. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Winter Dance“A single snowflake floats through the air,” and a red fox asks other creatures of the forest what to do. No answer is right for him until he meets another red fox who advises, “. . . that’s what / we fine red foxes / do in winter. / Dance!” A lyrical text and beautifully detailed illustrations with soft textured backgrounds, rendered with wax and pencil crayons, capture the mystery of the season—and the imaginations of readers.
    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    The Player King. Avi. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    The Player KingIn 1486, orphan Lambert Simnel, kitchen boy at Tackley’s Tavern, is recruited by Friar Simonds to impersonate missing young Prince Edward and reclaim the British throne from the King Henry VII (who killed the prince’s father, King Richard III in combat) to restore the old order. After King Henry defeats Lambert’s army, Lambert, ironically, ends up in the palace kitchen instead of being hanged for treason. He laments, “I am Lambert Simnel, who was, once, very briefly a king. A player king.” An author’s note provides the facts behind this historical novel.
    —NB

    Tumble & Blue. Cassie Beasley. 2017. Penguin/Random House.

    Tumble & BumbleTwo hundred years ago, two ancestors of Blue Montgomery and Tumble Wilson talked Munch, a magical Okefenokee Swamp golden alligator, into splitting between them his offer to change one person’s fate on the night of a red sickle moon. Since that time, the fates of their descendants are either blessings or curses. After they meet and become friends in Murky Branch, Georgia, Blue, whose fate is to always lose, and Tumble, whose attempts at superheroism always end disastrously, journey into the swamp on the night of the red moon to change their destinies.
    —CA

    The Wonderling. Mira Bartók. 2017. Candlewick.

    The WonderlingShy, 11-year-old, one-eared groundling Number Thirteen is part fox, part child. He is captive at the nefarious Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, where music is forbidden, with only remnants of a lullaby as his earliest memory. A reluctant hero, he befriends Trinket, a bird groundling, who renames him Arthur and arranges a dramatic escape to find their familiesand for Arthur to seek his destiny and finally “find” his voice. Middle graders will enjoy this high-adventure Victorian steampunk animal fantasy with music, clever prose, and quaint illustrations, done in ink, graphite, and gouache.
    —NB

    Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories. Jack Gantos. 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Writing RadarIn his characteristic witty style, master storyteller Jack Gantos offers a wealth of practical advice on writing stories. He emphasizes the importance of reading good books to turn on the “powerful Writing Radar story-finding talent within you.”  Gantos peppers his kid-friendly guide to journaling with examples of his own childhood experiences as a writer and humorous pen-and-ink drawings. He includes three “Writing Connections” exercises to get young writers started on storytelling with confidence.
    —CA

    Ages 12–14

    Bound by Ice: A True North Pole Survival Story. Sandra Neil Wallace & Rich Wallace. 2017. Calkins Creek/Highlights.

    Bound By IceOn July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set out from San Francisco on an expedition to the North Pole. After being ice bound and drifting for almost two years, the vessel was freed from the ice only to sink after being trapped again. “Thirty-three men embarked on the Jeannette’s Arctic journey to reach the North Pole. Twelve survived.” The engrossing narrative account of the ill-fated voyage includes letters, journal entries, letters, archival photos, and illustrations.
    —CA  

    The Stars Beneath Our Feet. David Barclay Moore. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    The Stars Beneath Our FeetIn 12-year-old Trinidadian Lolly Rachpaul’s journey of self-discovery, he is still reeling over the recent gang-related Harlem murder of his brother, Jermaine. Guided by Ali, an after-school program social worker, Lolly escapes harsh reality by constructing a kingdom with Lego blocks and creating an imaginative story about its inhabitants in a vacant room in the Community Center. After autistic Rose butts her way in, snapping her own buildings together with his Legos, Lolly’s challenge to her, a Ten-Foot Tower Contest, leads to unexpected life lessons.
    —NB

    You Bring the Distant Near. Mitali Perkins. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    You Bring the Distant NearBeginning with the immigration in 1973 of Tara and Sonia Das with their parents to New York City (via Ghana and London), Perkins explores the experiences of three generations of Das women through the alternating teen voices of first Tara and Sonia and then their daughters, Anna and Chantal. This is a warm and thought-provoking story of searching for identity and the balancing of cultural expectations as well as a story of strong women finding love and the blending of cultures.
    —CA

    Ages 15+

    Disappeared. Francisco X. Stork. 2107. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.

    DisappearedAfter Sara Zapata, a journalist in Juárez, Mexico, uncovers evidence tying the head of the State Police to missing local women (including her best friend, Linda Fuentes), she receives an anonymous death threat. Sara’s entrepreneurial brother, Emiliano, has just received a job offer that involves smuggling drugs in piñatas that is lucrative and promises to curry favor with the father of Perla Rubi, his wealthy out-of-reach love. Sara’s and Emiliano’s stories intersect in a race for survival.
    —NB

    The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives. Dashka Slater. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    The 57 BusIn Oakland, California, on November 4, 2013, the homeward journeys of two teens on the 57 bus overlap for just eight minutes, a brief period of time in which both their lives are changed. Sasha is sixteen, white, identifies as agender, lives in middle-class Oakland Hills, and attends a small private high school. Richard is sixteen, African-American, lives in East Oakland’s flatlands, and is a junior at Oakland High School. As the bus moves along, Sasha has been reading Anna Karenina;Richard has been goofing around with his companions. Sasha falls asleep, and Richard flicks a lighter, and the flame touches the hem of Sasha’s gauzy white skirt. In short chapters, Slater tells the before and after stories of Sasha and Richard and explores issues of race, class, gender, and problems of the criminal justice system and juvenile incarceration.
    —CA

    Genuine Fraud. E. Lockhart. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

    Genuine FraudThese things are true about Julietta (“Jule”) West Williams: She’s a liar, survivor, fighter, and chameleon who finally has a best friend, Imogen. Beginning during the third week of June 2017, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and moving steadily backward in time to the first week of June 2016, in New York City, this thriller lands back in the opening scene for a double-plot twist grand finale that readers won’t see coming.
    —NB  

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    More Graphic Novels

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Dec 11, 2017

    Graphic novels are visual ways of telling stories using dialogue, thoughts, and narration combined with artwork in sequential panels. Graphic novels belong in literacy-centered classrooms along with other trade books to teach essential skills and to foster reading for both learning and pleasure. The books reviewed this week are representative of the ever-increasing diversity of graphic novels and are engaging and enriching for readers of all ages.

    Ages 4–8

    Andrew the Seeker (Game for Adventure #1). Lee Nordling. Ill. Scott Roberts. 2017. Graphic Universe/Lerner.

    Andrew the SeekerAfter spying a cute-not-scary purple monster outside his window, Andrew (with a safari helmet and butterfly net) goes on a pursuit. He is so intent on tracking the monster that he fails to see it hiding in plain sight. Frustrated, Andrew abandons the hunt, but after spying the monster the next morning, he’s back on. With an adventurous plot that is easy to follow in the colorful and humorous cartoon panels, this wordless book is a strong introduction to the graphic novel for young children.
    —CA

    Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis (Crafty Cat #2). Charise Mericle Harper. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Crafty CatSecond grader Birdie is excited about attending the one-day-only Monster Craft Camp on Saturday, but her expectations are dampened as bossy classmate Anya disrupts each of the camp activities. Birdie’s alter ego, Crafty Cat, comes to the rescue and helps her craft her way through the challenges of the day. This second graphic novel in the series with its simple panels of digital sketches in muted colors includes a set of easy-to-follow directions for the five crafts introduced in the story. Crafty kids can look forward to the release of Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly in spring 2018.
    —NB

    A Tale of Two Kitties (Dog Man #3). Dav Pilkey. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    Dog ManIn a foreword, fifth graders George and Harold relate how reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities inspired them to create A Tale of Two Kitties, and provide a “supa recap” of the origin of Dog Man. In this adventure, Dog Man (with the body of a police officer and a head of dog) defends the city against evil doers: Petey, a mad scientist cat, and the diabolical Flippy the Psychokinetic Fish, who organizes an army of Beastly Buildings to gobble up everything in sight. Silly humor abounds in the dialogue and childlike artwork, and the book ends with illustration lessons and a “Read to Your Dog, Man!” section.
    —CA

    Toby Goes Bananas. Franck Girard. Ill. Serge Block. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    TOBY Goes BananasToby Goes Bananas is essentially a book of jokes tied together by a narrative of a day in the life of young Toby, who always has a snappy comeback ready as he interacts with his parents and younger sister, Zaza, at home and with friends, teachers, and the principal at school. The jokes are silly and eyeroll-inducing—just the kind that young kids love. His teacher, Mrs. Smith, is the perfect foil, setting Toby up for a zinger. For example, his response to her question “Toby, how many planets are in the universe?” is “ALL OF THEM!” Kids will go “bananas” over this graphic/fiction hybrid.
    —CA

    Ages 9–11

    Fish Girl. Donna Jo Napoli. Ill. David Wiesner. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Fish GirlFish Girl, the main attraction in a boardwalk aquarium, believes the stories that King Neptune tells her. After she makes friends with a human girl, Livia, who names her Mira (for Miracle), she realizes that King Neptune is not the god of the seas but, rather, an immoral fisherman who has kept her captive since she was a baby. After Mira discovers her magical ability to transform between mermaid and human, a storm brews that may free her to live the life she deserves. Napoli’s spare text in boxes and Wiesner’s detailed full-color visual images make this an engaging, easy-to-follow graphic fantasy.
    —NB 

    The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds #1). Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel. Ill. Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller & Boya Sun. 2017. Random House.

    5 WorldsOona Lee (clumsy young sand dancer), Jax Amboy (star athlete), and An Tzu (ingenious poor boy) band together to save their galaxy after the attack at the Starball Game on Beacon Day. Oona believes that her missing sister Jessa, a sand dancer extraordinaire, is the chosen one who, according to the Sand Warrior Prophecy, can save the Five Worlds from dying with her extraordinary summoning sand dancing to light the dark beacons. But as Oona, Jax, and An are hunted by Mimic and his minions, the trio gets a glimpse into their own unexpected destinies.
    Readers magically transported into the Five Worlds in this epic science fiction quest will be eager for the sequel.
    —NB

    Swing It, Sunny! (Sunny #2).Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    Swing It SunnyAfter spending the summer with Gramps in Florida in Sunny Side Up (2015), Sunny Lewin is back home and things are not terrific. She faces the challenges of first year in middle school and the absence of her big brother, Dale, who has been sent to a military boarding school. The short chapters (episodes in The Sunny Show, starring Sunny herself, “a regular girl in a regular world”) include some particularly effective wordless panels that express Sunny’s emotional turmoil as she deals with her problems. Jennifer and Matthew Holms have created a lovable and realistic character in Sunny. Humor lightens things up as Sunny and her best friend, Deb, do what kids did in the 1970s, and her upbeat sunny side continues to shine.
    —CA

    Ages 12–14

    Eagle Strike: The Graphic Novel (Alex Rider). Anthony Horowitz. Adapt. Antony Johnston. Ill. Yuzuru Takasaki & Kanako Damerum. 2017. Candlewick.

    Eagle StrikeSuperspy agent, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider (otherwise known as M16) is on vacation with Sabine Pleasure and her family when their villa is bombed, and her father ends up in a coma. M16 refuses to help him, so Alex is on his own as he searches for the hit man and, in the process, connects a pop star and designer of a video game to a heinous international scheme from which only he can save the world. The story is told through characters’ thoughts and dialogue in digitally colored, manga-influenced panels. This graphic novel adaptation with brilliant action sequences is based on book four of the original Alex Rider series.
    —NB

    Gods and Thunder: A Graphic Novel of Old Norse Myths. Carl Bowen, Michael Dahl & Louise Simonson. Ill. Eduardo Garcia, Tod Smith & Rex Lokus. 2017. Capstone.

    Gods and ThunderThis introduction to Norse mythology in graphic novel format includes four tales of the Norse gods, the Aesirs. In “Thor and Loki,” Thor (the son of Odin) and Loki (a sly, shape-shifting giant who has been raised with Odin’s children) journey into Jütunheim, the land of the giants. In “Thor vs. the Giants,” the thunder god outwits three giants in epic battles. “The Death of Baldur” tells the story of the tragic death of the beloved god of light, the son of Odin and his wife, Frigg. “Twilight of the Gods” chronicles the events of Ragnarök, the final battle that brings an end to the Nine Worlds. A glossary (with a pronunciation guide) is helpful in keeping track of the characters, places, and events in these ancient tales.
    —CA

    The Stone Heart (Nameless City #2). Faith Erin Hicks. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    The Stone HeartHicks’ manga-inspired, watercolor illustrations draw the reader into this imaginative political thriller set in The Nameless City in 13th-century China. Three months after The Nameless City, ends, Kaidu (staying with his father, a general at the Dao Palace) and Rat (an orphan living in the Stone Heart Monastery, which harbors secrets that can destroy or save society) are thrown into danger when the General of All Blades is assassinated by his son, Erzi. After Erzi takes command of the city, he steals the secret book Napatha (containing the lost formula for a powerful weapon) from the monastery, which he burns down. Kaidu and Rat hatch a dangerous plan to defeat this political takeover with consequences that may be deadly. Back matter includes an author’s note and a section on the concept art for The Nameless City series.
    —NB

    Ages 15+

    Shattered Warrior. Sharon Shinn. Ill. Molly Knox Ostertag. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Shattered WarriorWhen the Derichets, an evil alien race, invaded the planet for its mineral rights, they killed all of Colleen Cavanaugh’s family—or so she thinks. While working in an oppressive factory controlled by the Derichets, Colleen learns that her niece, Lucy, survived. Reunited, along with Jann (a Chromatti rebel with whom Colleen has fallen in love), they must decide if they will choose enslaved security or fight against the Derichets in the underground Valenchi rebellion to reclaim their world. Created with a muted palette and environmental detail, the action-filled illustrations expand the narrative, thoughts, and conversations in this complex dystopian, sci-fi graphic novel.
    —NB

    Thornhill. Pam Smy, 2017. Roaring Brook.

    Thornhill2In 2017, Ella, who has moved with her father into a house next to derelict Thornhill Institute, a long-abandoned orphanage, spies a figure wandering Thornhill’s overgrown grounds. In 1852, Mary Baines, a selectively mute orphan beleaguered by bullying, spends her time in her isolated room creating dolls and puppets. Mary’s and Ella’s stories intertwine in alternating sections of text consisting of entries in Mary’s diary and wordless black-and-white graphic sequences of Ella’s exploration of Thornhill that lead to the discovery of Mary’s diary and her repairing of the damaged dolls she finds. Tension builds through both words and images as this engrossing, beautifully-crafted graphic novel/horror story comes to a chilling and disturbing end. 
    —CA

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

     These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily. 

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    Graphic Novels

    Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Dec 04, 2017

    National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge encourages readers to go outside their comfort zone and “explore the world through books.” For us, that meant reading books in a format we don’t normally read—graphic novels. As we have been reading graphic novels throughout the fall, we continue to be delighted by the amazing diversity of books in graphic novel format for readers of all ages.

    Ages 4–8

    Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. L. M. Montgomery. Adapt. Mariah Marsden. Ill. Brenna Thummler. 2017. Andrews McMeel.

    Anne of Green GablesMarsden and Thummler give L. M. Montgomery’s classic story of the imaginative and feisty redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, who charms her way into the lives and hearts of brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables farm, a fresh reimagining in graphic novel format. The cast of characters and episodes from the original novel, as well as the charm of its Avonlea setting, are preserved in this abridgment.
    —CA

    Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliteration Adventure. Travis Nichols. 2017. Chronicle.

    Betty's Burgled BakeryThe Gumshoe Zoo Detectives are on the job solving panda Betty’s mystery: “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!” The adventure unfolds in brightly colored comic panels as different animal sleuths uncover details about the “heinous heist” in clever alliterative narrative that runs through the alphabet, ending with a surprise identification of the culprit. “We zipped this zany zigzagging zinger with zeal!” Back matter includes information about alliteration and a bonus “Hungry Animals” section on the eating habits of five different animals.
    —NB

    Good Night, Planet. Liniers. 2017. Toon/Raw Junior.

    Good Night, PlanetThe nighttime adventure of a young girl’s beloved stuffed toy, a fawn named Planet, unfolds in comic/picture book format. Many of the panels are wordless, but Liniers’ gift for storytelling through his imaginative and engaging artwork, rendered in ink and watercolor, makes this an easy-to-read comic. After the girl falls asleep, Planet heads downstairs, shares cookies stolen from the kitchen with Elliot, the family’s dog, and at the urging of a mouse ventures outdoors and attempts to reach for the moon—“The BIGGEST cookie ever!” Planet, Elliot, and their new mouse-pal, Bradley, return to the kitchen to eat some little cookies before calling it a night. A Spanish edition, Buenas Noches, Planeta, is available.
    —CA

    The Great Art Caper. (Pets on the Loose! #2). Victoria Jamieson. 2017. Henry Holt.

    The Great Art CaperDevious Harriet, the fourth grade’s pet mouse, and her minions plan to ruin the Juried Art Show and frame second grade’s pet hamster, George Washington (GW), for the disaster. It is up to the Furry Friends (GW, guinea pig Sunflower, and bunny Barry) to save the night for GW’s best friend, Carina, who has entered a drawing of her father, the school custodian, in the contest. Vibrant pen-and-ink, digitally colored illustrations capture the hilarity of the action, which ends with an unexpected and satisfying twist.
    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    Dinosaur Empire!: Journey Through the Mesozoic Era  (Earth Before Us #1). Abby Howard. 2017. Amulet/Abrams.

    Dinosaur EmpireWhen fifth-grader Ronnie needs to retake a failed quiz on dinosaurs, she seeks studying help from her neighbor, Miss Lernin, a retired paleontologist, who gives her an immersive learning experience. Readers take a journey through the Time Tunnel in Miss Lernin’s recycling bin, visiting the Mesozoic Era, where they learn about continent formation, climate changes, and the evolution of flora and fauna during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. Returning home, Miss Lernin tells Ronnie that the portal in the recycling bin will be available for another adventure when she needs to “unravel the mysteries of the past,” a promise of more informative graphic fantasy adventures to come in the Earth Before Us series. The next day, Ronnie gets 100% on the quiz and begins sharing her knowledge of the Mesozoic Era with classmates. Back matter includes a “Cool Animals from Other Times” section, an animal family tree, and a glossary.
    —CA

    Evil Emperor Penguin (Evil Emperor Penguin #1). Laura Ellen Anderson. 2017. David Fickling/Scholastic.

    Evil Emperor PenguinFrom his underground headquarters in Antarctica, Evil Emperor Penguin (EEP) is busy at work in his Invention Room of Evil Proportions. Abetted by his sidekick Number 8, a purple octopus, and his top minion Eugene, a super cute and cuddly abominable snowman clone, EEP plans to take over the world. In sixteen ridiculously funny episodes, deployment of evil inventions (the Evil Emperor-Bot of Icy Doom, the Fearsomitron, and the Spider-Bot 4000) goes awry and EEP must deal with his  arch nemesis, Evil Cat. The bumbling team of evil will return in Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! (2018).
    —CA

    Mighty Jack the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2). Ben Hatke. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Mighty JackIn this graphic novel sequel to Mighty Jack (2016), a reimagined version of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and his friend Lilly follow his autistic sister Maddy, who has been kidnapped by an ogre. They travel through a portal to another realm, only to realize that they can’t rescue her if they can’t find her. In nonstop action, represented well in lively comic panels with expressive dialogue, Jack and Lilly, with help from a goblin king, fight to save themselves and Maddy, bringing the fantasy adventure to an exciting ending.
    —NB

    Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth. Don Brown & Dr. Mike Perfit. Ill. Don Brown. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Older Than DirtThis “kinda-sorta biography of earth,” told in graphic novel format, begins with the Big Bang and follows the earth’s history through its geologic transformations up to, and including, current concerns about climate change. Readers experience the content of almost 14.5 billion years of history through colorful information-packed cartoon panels with dialogue between a groundhog and an inquisitive worm, mini-bios of scientists, diagrams, and maps. The back matter of this nonfiction graphic novel includes source notes, an extensive bibliography, and a thought-provoking “Is Climate Change a Real Thing?” section.
    —NB

    Ages 12–14

    Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (Science Comics). Falynn Koch. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Science ComicsIn this latest addition to the Science Comics series, Elena, a scientist, takes readers into a futuristic Chamber, where researchers communicate with anthropomorphized pathogens and observe their interactions with the human body’s immune system. The focus is on two plague germs: Yellow, a yellow fever virus, and Bubonic (Bu), a bubonic plague bacterium. As Elena tries to convince Yellow and Bu to participate in research designed to use them in developing vaccines to fight other disease-causing germs, the book covers information about germs and the immune system, which combats them. Back matter includes an extensive glossary of terms, diagrams (bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi), a time line of the history of learning about and fighting pandemic plague germs, and a bibliography.
    —CA

    The Road to Epoli (Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo #1). Ben Costa & James Parks. Ill.  Ben Costa. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Rickety StitchAmnesiac Rickety Stitch is on a quest to discover his past, one musical line at a time, with his best friend—the mostly-silent Gelatinous Goo—by his side. They encounter new friends and enemies as they travel along the road to Epoli, searching for Stitch’s life story. Bold, expressive artwork in vivid jewel tones accompanied by clever repartee and unfolding song lyrics, along with dream sequences in black-and-white, create a creepy and humorous graphic fantasy, which will be continued in The Middle-Route Run (2018). Back matter includes lyrics to “The Road to Epoli” and “Excerpts from The Extraordinarily Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Eem.”
    —NB

    The Space Race of 1869
    (Castle in the Stars #1). Alex Alice. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook. 

    Castle in the StarsThis historical steampunk graphic novel opens in 1869 France with young Seraphim mourning the death of his mother, Claire, who disappeared in her air balloon searching for the aether barrier the year before. When Seraphim and his father, a genius engineer, receive a mysterious letter promising them Claire’s lost logbook if they help King Ludwig of Bavaria with a special task, they hustle off to his castle. Seraphim and two new friends privately form “The Knights of Aether” to defend the king and his secret aethership against spies and political intrigue, throwing them into a cliffhanger for the next volume in the series. Alice creates a memorable visual story through his exquisitely detailed manga-inspired watercolor panels, maps, and diagrams.
    —NB

    Ages 15+

    I Am Alfonso Jones. Tony Medina. Ill. Stacey Robinson & John Jennings. 2017. Tu/Lee & Low.

    I Am Alfonso JonesAlfonso Jones, a 15-year-old African American student, is looking forward to performing in his school’s hip-hop rendition of Hamlet.  But as he is buying his first suit, Alfonso is killed by an off-duty cop, who mistakes the clothes hanger he is holding for a gun. As Alfonso takes a never-ending trip on a train with other ghosts of victims of police violence, readers experience the disturbing, painful reality of class and race discrimination in this timely graphic novel with a focus on police brutality and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Extensive back matter provides a context for the book and will aid discussion.
    —CA

    Spinning. Tillie Walden. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    SpinningTillie Walden tells her coming-of-age story in this graphic memoir that is structured around her life as a competitive figure and synchronized skater for twelve years. Divided into sections by definitions of technical skating techniques, the storyline, presented in full- and multiple-paneled pages with pen-and-ink illustrations with spare narration, follows Tillie’s life as a skater, her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, interactions with bullies, and her eventual coming out to her family, as well as school and skating friends.
    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    Stories in Verse

    Jennifer W. Shettel and Lesley Colabucci
     | Nov 28, 2017

    From picture books to novels, stories in verse are popular with all age groups. Whether readers come to these stories for the content or for the poetry, they will find a focus on language and sensory images. This week’s collection of books includes rhyming and free verse stories, novels in verse, and a poetic biography.

    Ages 4–8

    Grump Groan Growl. bell hooks. Ill. by Chris Raschka. 2017. Disney-Hyperion.

    Grump Groan GrowlHand-printed in India ink, the words of a spare rhyming text—“GRUMP / GROAN / GROWL / BAD MOOD / on the prowl”—explore what it feels like to be in a monstrously bad mood and how to work through it. Raschka uses the same bold ink technique and a colorful watercolor-washed background to create expressive images of the out-of-sorts curly-headed child and the fierce monster his bad mood creates to evoke a sense of anger, which lightens as the child calms down and controls the monster.
    —JS

    Nothing Rhymes with Orange. Adam Rex. 2017. Chronicle.

    Nothing Rhymes with OrangeThis hilarious book will delight readers with its rhymes and puns. Any child who enjoys hearing or writing original rhymes will laugh out loud at the playful text in which various fruits are paired with words that rhyme with their name. Examples include grapes/capes, kiwi/peewee, and cantaloupe/antelope. Rex’s marker-drawn faces on the fruit and use of messy lettering add to the fun of this story that ends with a satisfying twist.
    —LC

    Watersong. Tim McCanna. 2017. Simon and Schuster.

    WatersongDramatic double-page watercolor and digitally finished illustrations of a rainstorm in a forest habitat draw readers into this picture book, which begins with a “Drip / drop / plip / plop.” McCanna uses onomatopoeia to capture the changing sounds of the storm as a fox (visible in the illustrations but unmentioned in the text) makes its way through the forest. The text is set in the same font throughout the book, but size, color, and position of words vary on the page. For example, “spitter / spatter / splat” at the beginning of the storm is in smaller lettering than “POP! / Crash! / Whish! / Wash! / Wham!” at the height of the storm. In addition, the fox is positioned differently on each page to show how the storm affects the ecosystem as it moves through the forest back to its family. An appended “Listen to the Watersong” page features information and specific terms to guide children in thinking about the science behind the sounds explored in the story. 
    —LC

    Ages 9–11

    Before She Was Harriet. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Ill. James E.  Ransome. 2017. Holiday House.

    Before She Was HarrietThe story begins and ends with Harriet Tubman as an old woman. Each page walks readers through the life of this iconic American hero. “Before she was an old woman,” she was a suffragist; General Tubman, ferrying escaping slaves across a river; a Union spy; a nurse; Aunt Harriet, helping her parents fleeing to Canada; Moses, a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and Minty, a slave in Maryland. And before that, she was Araminta, “a young girl / taught by her father / to read / the woods / and the stars at night / readying / for the day / she’d leave behind / slavery / along with her name / and pick a new one / Harriet.” Astute readers will notice the similarities between the portrait style images on the first and last pages of James Ransome’s double-spread watercolor illustrations, which exquisitely convey Tubman’s character through detailed facial expressions and shifting perspectives. The free-verse text, written in the form of a cumulative tale, is engaging and describes the time period beautifully. Readers unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman will likely leave the book eager to learn more about her role in American history.
    —LC

    Tony. Ed Galing. Ill. Erin. E. Stead. 2017.  Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.

    TonyCaldecott Award-winning illustrator Erin Stead turns the short story poem “Tony” by Ed Galing (1917–2013) into a beautiful picture book that will appeal to young readers and horse lovers of all ages. The unseen narrator of the poetic verse rises at 3:00 am each morning to greet Tony, the strong, white work horse “with a ton of love” who pulls the milk wagon through town for young Tom, the milk deliverer.  Soft pencil line drawings and muted shades of green and yellow create a sense of the breaking dawn as Tony begins his daily work in this warm and gentle story in verse.
    —JS

    Ages 12–14

    Stay. Katherine Lawrence. 2017. Coteau.

    StayThis brief novel in verse captures a time of emotional intensity in the life of eleven-year-old Millie. Her parents are on the brink of divorce and she regularly visits the grave of her twin, who died at birth, seeking his advice in her struggles. Would a puppy make things better for her? Will her father move out? Does her mother really have a boyfriend? Readers will worry along with Millie and connect to aspects of her everyday life as well as her moments of crisis. In particular, they will relate to her reflections on her school friends and her relationship with her sister, Tara. For instance, when she and Tara find themselves spending weekends with their dad, Millie notes, “We’re not best friends, my sister and me, / But at Dad’s we share a bedroom, whisper.”
    —LC

    Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. Jeannine Atkins. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Stone MirrorsEdmonia Lewis (1844-1907), the daughter of an African-American father and an Ojibwe mother, became a respected sculptor in the 1800s, a time when female artists of color were not encouraged to create art. This fictionalized biography in free verse delves into different phases of the artist’s life. The book begins with Lewis’s exit from Oberlin College (where she is falsely accused of poisoning two school friends and suffers an assault by a group of men), moves to her time in Boston, and then to Rome where she studies as a sculptor, and ends with her eventual rise to fame.  Back matter incudes a list of sources and an author’s note.
    —JS

    Ages 15+

    Long Way Down. Jason Reynolds. 2017. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Long Way DownWhen his brother Shawn is shot and killed, fifteen-year-old Will sets out to follow the rules of the neighborhood: No Crying. No Snitching. Seek Revenge. He retrieves Shawn’s gun from its not-so-secret hiding spot and heads to the elevator to descend seven floors to the street. However, time slows down inside the elevator, and as it stops on every floor, a different ghost from the past who has been a part of the cycle of urban violence (including a childhood friend, his Uncle Mark, his father, and finally Shawn) joins Will and asks some hard questions about his plan. When the elevator reaches the ground floor, Will’s has made his decision. Or has he? The startling and disturbing imagery conveyed in Reynold’s free verse poems creates a beautifully-crafted novel to read and discuss.
    —JS

    Solo. Kwame Alexander (with Mary Rand Hess). 2017. Blink/HarperCollins.

    SoloSeventeen-year-old Blade loves playing his guitar, and he loves his girlfriend, Chapel.  But Blade’s larger-than-life, rock star father is an addict, his sister is a mess, and Blade finds himself marked as “guilty by association.” After finding out he’s adopted, Blade decides to take a solo journey to track down his birth mother in Africa. When Blade’s father shows up in the African village where Blade is staying, he can’t believe it and is sure that his father is going to ruin things for him once again. Told in verse novel-format and with Blade’s intermingled song lyrics, this story about family and finding oneself will resonate with teen readers.
    —JS

    Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for pre-service and practicing teachers.  Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

    Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Her research interests include multicultural children’s literature and response to literature. 

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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